What is Sustainable Fashion?
Sustainable fashion is producing clothes, shoes and accessories in environmentally and economically sustainable manners, but also about sustainable ways of consumption and use. Besides producing environmentally friendly products, there are many ways for fashion companies to offer a more sustainable fashion, and for consumers to consume more sustainably. The main responsibility of fashion companies is to change their production, distribution and marketing practices and strategies towards greater sustainability. To do this some Swedish fashion companies provide fashion as second hand or have initiated rental systems for leasing clothes and accessories. Other companies focus mainly on creating fashion that is of high quality and timeless in order to create long lasting style and durability. Other companies have set up collection and recycling systems that support increased textile recycling.
The rise of the “dirty” fast fashion industry?
The fashion industry, a multi billion dollar business affecting everyone in some way. Business is booming, but at what cost? However despite the seemingly not problematic industry, fashion is the second dirtiest industry in the world, following oil. Due to fast production and over consumption, the fashion industry has landed itself on an environmentally damaging path. While it was the creation of ready-to-wear in the early 1900’s that may have sparked the initial beginning it was not until fast fashion took over that the real numbers started to show. According to the True Cost, a documentary highlighting the reality of the fashion industry, the average American throws away 82 pounds annually of garments, accessories and shoes. Fueling this is the creation of cheap trendy collections, known as fast fashion. Fast fashion bases its business model on speedy production. Because new clothes are constantly being developed, consumers insist on buying all the latest “must haves.” However the reality is that we don’t need that much clothing in our lives. Worldwide, we consume 80 billion pieces of clothing a month; which is a 400% increase from two decades ago.
How does sustainable fashion save resources?
Water is a major resource for the fashion industry. It is used in the dyeing and finishing process for nearly all of our clothes. It takes an incredible amount of 2,700 Liters of water just to produce a T-shirt. Cotton is highly dependent on water but cotton is usually grown in hot and dry areas where water is a scarce resource already. By contrast, organic cotton reduces the need for water by around 90% as opposed to conventional cotton. Currently only around 1% of global cotton production is organic. This is mostly due to the much higher cost to produce organic cotton. In addition to water, natural resources can also be saved through sustainable fashion. A study from 2015 shows that 97% of making clothes are new resources which adds up to an yearly resource input of 98 million tons. Resources include oils to produce fibers, fertilizers to grow cotton, and an endless amount of chemicals to finish the fabric and produce dye. Recycled fibers are a much more sustainable option to save resources.
How does sustainable fashion help save people?
Fast fashion items often take a long and intense chemical process before ending up on hangers. Around 8,000 different chemicals are used to dye, bleach and wet process garments. Those chemicals often cause diseases or even deaths among farmers and inflict serious birth defects on their children. Some of these chemicals pose a real danger to our health as well, as our skin absorbs anything we put on it, including the chemicals in our clothes. This is why it is crucial to wash new clothes before putting them on for the first time and check for garments with chemical content certification labels such as OEKO-TEX®, GOTS, or BLUESIGN®.
How does sustainable fashion help our planet?
The global fashion industry also emits a large amount of greenhouse gases every year, thus contributing massively to global warming. One of the reasons is that the vast majority of our beloved clothes are petroleum-based and made from fossil fuels, including polyester, acrylic and nylon; these materials require significantly more energy in the production phase than natural or recycled fibers. Sustainable brands on the other side often use materials from natural or recycled fabrics that require less to none chemical treatment, little water, less energy and no fertilizers or pesticides to grow. Most organic fabrics such as linen, hemp, and organic cotton are even biodegradable. These environmentally-sound fabrics go easy on the planet and are great sustainable alternatives.
How does sustainability support better working conditions?
Modern day slavery still exists in minimum wages, endless working hours, unacceptable health and unsafe conditions for workers. Moreover, verbal and physical abuse is still common practice in many parts of the industry. Informative documentaries such as The True Cost and Fashion Factories Undercover exist on the social injustices of the fast fashion industry. Ethical brands advocate for providing humane working conditions, health care and fair wages for their workers, which are typically above average. Generally, they show a larger purpose towards creating economic opportunities for those in need to end poverty. Adding to that around 170 million children are engaged in some form of garment work according to recent statistics from UNICEF. This is a massive red-flag and the thought that children are sent to factories and conduct work that resembles modern day slavery to meet the fashion demands of the western world is simply unacceptable. Brands that truly follow sustainable and ethical practices are transparent about it and provide details on the factory, working conditions and manufacturing process. These will be the ones that protect the rights of garment workers in global supply chains and ensure that no child labor takes places. Furthermore, they make sure that workers have been paid fairly for their work, often above current market rates, and work in safe conditions.
Appreciation towards sustainable fashion
It is just so easy to look at a gorgeous, finished piece of clothing in a store and forget that there’s a story behind it. Truth is, we are detached because the industry encourages us to be so. Hopefully by being aware of the downsides of fast fashion will lead to more conscious consumerism. One that is planet and people friendly. It’s time to recognize the impact of our buying decisions. To do this there are many ways to help. To evaluate the ethical factor of a fashion brand, check for garments with certification labels such as Fair Wear Foundation, Fair Trade Certified, Ethical Trading Initiative or Certified B Corporation. Another way you can help is by verifying the sustainability of the clothes you buy and instead of buying trendy clothes to buy clothes of a more timeless style and better quality.
Future of Sustainability
Sustainability has been developed to reinvent the industry through environmentally focused production, design and consumption. From Eco friendly materials to new ideas in technology, sustainability is here to develop an industry that does not jeopardize the needs of future generations to come. Sustainability is incredibly important and even big companies such as H&M, Nike, Adidas and Zara who are known for creating fast fashion collections around the world are even working to develop a sustainable shift. Although we have a long way to go, the industry is at least on the right path towards a common understanding and an honest reflection towards what needs to change!